By Timothy Kaberia
The Wikileaks reports have obviously touched a raw nerve with the Kenyan administration. President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga have waxed themselves lyrical in their reaction to the leaks.
The two turned this year’s Jamhuri day celebrations into a Ranneberger-bashing session. Kibaki’s speech reminded me of the days when former President Moi would publicly lynch any foreign diplomat who dared criticize his strongman tactics. That is not to say Mr Kibaki is a strongman.
The most astonishing reaction to the leaks comes from Prime Minister Odinga. Mr Odinga started by dismissing the leaks as “gossip,” then came up with a fairytale of Johnnie Carson personally apologizing to him, then made a U-turn and went on the offensive against the US Ambassador.
I imagine Mr Odinga, who has always been pro-West realized that the leaks were not flattering about him, took off his gloves and embarked on a whirlwind of feeble jabs at the Ambassador. The man, as we know him is a fighter but on this he is fighting a hopelessly lost battle as he exposes his shortcomings further.
Whereas I have no intention of defending the ambassador, I must note that I fully recognize the potential of Kenya’s so-called “patriots” baying for failing to tag along with Kibaki and Odinga at a time when “Kenya’s” integrity is being questioned. Mr Odinga has been whipping up public emotions for the last couple of days by invoking state “sovereignty” among other calculated soundbites.
Politically savvy and shrewd at political spinning, Jaramogi’s son likened the Ambassador to former colonial governor McDonalds on Jamhuri day. Perfect choice of parallels, but Mr Odinga needs to be told unequivocally that Kenyans will not view anyone questioning Odinga’s, Kibaki’s or their cabinet’s integrity as amounting to questioning Kenyans’ integrity, sovereignty and the unwavering desire to move forward. To the contrary, many Kenyans feel the same way as the ambassador regarding Mr Kibaki, Mr Odinga and most of the ruling elite.
Any keen observer will note that Mr Odinga is not so much rattled by what the ambassador said in the leaked documents. Instead he is obsessed with the fact that the US embassy has been dealing “directly” with Kenyan youths. Why is he so mad at the fact that the ambassador has been going around the country meeting with youth groups and supporting their activities? Has Mr Odinga suddenly realized that it is a “dangerous” idea to have an empowered youth? Is this not the same Odinga who embraced former ambassador Smith Hempstone when he and other “young turks” of the late 80s and early 90s were threatened by the Moi regime?
Is this not the same Odinga who was so close to ambassador Ranneberger a few months ago whenever the ambassador lashed at the PNU wing of the coalition? Man up Mr Prime Minister, wake up to the reality that ‘you cannot have your cake and eat it too.” Ironically Mr Odinga does not believe that ‘what comes around goes around.’
Back to WikiLeaks. I can understand Mr Odinga being so mad because all along he thought he was Michael Ranneberger’s favorite in the ‘good cop bad cop’ game. I doubt he would have complained if the cables were all about the “evil axis” of Kibaki and Moi against the “good axis.” It does not work that way sir. The ambassador’s first duty is to truthfully advise Washington on the situation at post. Appeasing host country leaders is a matter of being courteous with them publicly while supporting what best serves America’s interests abroad. Appeasing host Presidents and Prime Minister is a matter of judgment and Mr Odinga, more than anyone else knows this is a decade’s old practice.
It is about time our politicians stopped whining about what has been said about them because some of it is true. How long will you continue whining? Others have taken it in stride and moved on. Saudi Arabia for instance, was confronted with a matter of national security in relation to their condemnation of Iran but they took it for what it is and categorically stated that this will not mess up its relations with Washington.
When foreign secretary Hillary Clinton called Turkish foreign minister to apologize over the leaks the Turkish minister assured her it was no big deal and quipped: “You should know what we also say about you.”
So, if you really want to hate back at Ranneberger you should probably consider leaking whatever our ambassador in Washington, Elkanah Odembo has to say about the Washington folks. Don’t just chest thump and act as if the entire 2.5 million documents in Julienne Assange’s possession are all about Kenya.
If I were Prime Minister Odinga I would probably seek to address the real issues raised in those controversial cables. The most shocking revelation is the Chinese involvement with the National Security Intelligence. If the Chinese are really working from Nyayo house and getting involved with our wiretapping and other communications gadgets, then that is a more serious threat to our national security and sovereignty than Kenyan youths being funded to “take over” the country’s leadership. If allegations of bribery by the Chinese are true then Mr Odinga needs to be talking to PLO Lumumba other than running around trying to divert attention.
President Kibaki and PM Odinga are accountable to Kenyans and not the other way around. Who doesn’t know that the coalition is a mess? The ambassador is damn right when he describes it as dysfunctional. Is it not obvious that the interests of the two wings of the coalition have more often than not preceded the common good of the country?
You do not even need to look further than the ODM sanctioning of the Ligale commission’s political gerrymandering just because the PNU wing feels slighted. Further, the delay in approving the committee to oversee the implementation of the new constitution is further illustration of the positioning, arm- twisting and triangulation that characterizes the coalition’s marriage of convenience.
If there is one thing the ambassador was spot on about is the culture of impunity fathomed and encouraged by both executives. Both have failed to rein in Ministers over corruption. Whereas Ruto was easily let go for what now appears as political differences other than a desire to pursue corrupt ministers, the PM has turned a blind eye on accusations of corruption against Ministers who are close to him. On the other hand, President Kibaki acts as if he can dance around the Artur brothers’ saga and make it disappear. These and many others are clear examples of impunity at the highest levels of government.
I could go on and on and analyze every single issue. While trying to sound relevant on the eve of his date with Moreno Ocampo, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta also joined the fray in challenging the ambassador. However, his was the most misplaced tantrum as he tried to imply that the US had done nothing for the country while China was “helping us” with roads. As Finance Minister I would expect Uhuru to tell Kenyans that we get LOANS not AID from our beloved China. That is a topic for another day.
This campaign against the ambassador is obviously aimed at driving Ranneberger out of Nairobi. The Odinga-Kibaki strategy may succeed but I believe this will not be as a result of their pressure but rather Washington’s concern about their diplomat’s personal security following the leaks.
Kaberia is a Washington based former human rights activist in Kenya. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org